Microsoft Won’t Make Its Uber-Secret “Courier” Tablet

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is finally confirming that it has been secretly developing a tablet computer of its own — but only in announcing the project’s demise. In a statement provided to Gizmodo, a Microsoft spokesman says that while the tablet — nicknamed “Courier” — will be “evaluated for use in future offerings … we have no plans to build such a device at this time.”

Microsoft isn’t saying why — but the device was slated to come to market by the end of the year at the earliest. Considering that Apple’s iPad has already been a big hit and that there are already so many other tablet-like devices — including Windows-based ones from third-parties — about to go on sale, the company may have thought the market was too crowded for a branded device of its own. Just yesterday, Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ) said that its $1.2 billion purchase of Palm (NSDQ: PALM) would mean it would be bringing Palm’s webOS to slates and tablets in addition to the phone.

Conspiracy theorists (like me!) will also note that the aura surrounding the device already served a very useful purpose for Microsoft, in its attempts to counter iPad buzz. For instance, word of the “Courier” first leaked during the fall — when speculation that some sort of tablet computer from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) was on the way was at a high point. And, on March 5, when Apple said that iPad sales would begin April 3, new photos of the Courier just coincidentally surfaced on Engadget. Now that the iPad is out and selling well, perhaps Microsoft decided it was no longer worthwhile to keep up the tease.